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Young skier raises hopes to Olympic level

Cole Sher-Jen has right package to achieve his dreams


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Although only 14 years old, Cole Sher-Jen has a unique future. He could qualify for either the American or the Afghanistan Winter Olympics teams.The very first time Paul Tollefson laid eyes on Cole Sher-Jen he exclaimed, "That's my racer!"

Tollefson hadn't even seen Sher-Jen on the ski slopes yet. At the time of his statement he was having coffee with Cole's mother, Gaylyn, outside of a coffee shop in Millennium Plaza Park. Both mother and son were stunned.

But Tollefson knows skiing talent as soon as he sees it. At age 14, the Lake Oswego youth is rapidly becoming an outstanding skier and is definitely part of the cream of the crop of Tollefson's Cascade Winter Sports Club. There are more than 100 members in the club, from ages 5 to 75, and a year ago Tollefson predicted some of them would show the potential to make the Winter Olympics. His predictions are coming true.

Some of the standouts in the ranks are Trevor Maxwell and his brother, Colin, of West Linn, plus the Brazilian brothers Tobias and Michel Macedo. Their sights are set on making the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Their swift-skiing little sister, Clara, might be a candidate for the 2022 games.

Cole, though, is as intriguing a prospect as Tollefson has on his team. He has the potential to make not just one but two Olympic teams. Because his father, Mahmood, is a native of Afghanistan, he might race for the Afghanistan Winter Olympics team. Because Cole was born in the United States and is an American citizen, he might compete for the U.S. team.

But those considerations are for the future. Cole can now concentrate on getting better and better and better. And he is.

"Cole is now one of the top kids in his age group," Tollefson said. "He's working his way toward representing the U.S. in the national 16 race, and he's showing talent in four events — the slalom, the grand slalom, the super grand slalom and the downhill. It's an anomaly to do well in all of the events.

"He's strongest in the slalom, although he would deny it. The gates come at you incredibly fast. The other coaches give me feedback. They say when Cole puts it all together he'll be dangerous. He's skiing with the best kids now," Tollefson said.

His mother was proud to point out: "Cole is getting better points than Ted Ligety (Olympic and World Cup gold medalist) did when he was 14."

Talent is just one reason that Cole has reason to dream big. He has so much more going for him, such as parents who do their utmost to support him.

"Cole is in a great place," his mom said. "He has a passion for what he does, he has a great coach and he skis with great kids."

His dad joked: "Cole tells me he's stronger than me now."

But Cole's dedication is just as impressive.

"You can't make a teenager wake up at 4:30 a.m. to practice every day," Mahmood said. "They have to do it themselves. When we would go skiing, Cole never wanted to come in. He would always say, 'Let me do one more run.'"

It wasn't until Tollefson started raving about his potential that Cole began to have serious thoughts about a skiing career. Until age 11 he was quite content just to do a little recreational skiing with his sports-loving family. Then he watched the 2010 Winter Olympics.

"It was really cool," Cole said. "The celebrities, the athleticism, it was awesome. It was only a couple days after I first met Paul I got so into it. It was great."

One of the people in Cole's corner is strength trainer Cody Limbaugh, owner of Cross Fit in Lake Oswego. He has been working with Cole all year.

"We're the only team around here that employs a strength and conditioning coach," Tollefson noted.

Waiting for the future can cause anxiety when you are as good as Cole, yet Tollefson praises him for "always being present in the moment" and not getting ahead of himself.

The "cool coach," as Cole calls Tollefson, is confident the day will come when everything "clicks."

"It's the 'aha' moment," Tollefson said. "Skiing is a lot like childhood. Kids don't see themselves growing but coaches see it. All of a sudden something will click and Cole will get to the next level of his talent."

For more about the Cascade Winter Sports Club, go to cwscraceteam.com.

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